Arc Attack: Musical Tesla Coils

June 11th, 2008

Meet the Arc Attack musical tesla mojo. It was my favorite innovation at Flipside 2008. More will spring from this.

It’s a giant sculpture controlled by DJs/musicians who use the electric bolts generated by two big tesla coils as instruments.

“…two specially designed DRSSTC’s (Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coils) act as separate synchronized instruments. These high tech machines produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt which puts out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers.”

– Arc Attack

More about them here.

Reasonable Health Care in the United States?

September 20th, 2007

Dr. Jay Parkinson in New York City has taken an amazing approach to medicine. He offers personalized, very responsive basic health care for $500 per year. Have a health concern? IM him, e-mail him, or send him photos or video and he’ll quickly advise, treat or refer you to a reasonably-priced specialist.

His Web site almost makes me want to move to New York just to escape the typical American health care hellhole I’m trapped in. But I wonder whether this approach can scale.

[Thanks Ryan Shaw].

Your World is Blu’s Canvas

September 16th, 2007

Blu is brilliant. Blu uses places in the real world as living canvasses for wild animations.

Press the play button, and keep an eye on the windows:

“Fantoche” (Marionette) by Blu, 3:39:

Why note the windows? Because there you see the time scale as sunlight comes and goes. The animation has to move extremely slowly, compared to normal human life.

This is fantastic. If I could draw, I’d create one of these right in the heart of a busy city.

Envision a New York subway stop as a canvas. Traffic would slow the animation down during rush hours, the artist often blocked from the work and the images often crowded out of view by the masses. During offpeak hours the animation could speed up and spread out a bit as the artist has more freedom to move around. You’d have a time-lapse video of the human subway activity, and the animation could interact with the lightning-fast real-world people flashing by.

You’d have fictional characters sharing a real-world place with real people, but living in a completely different frame of time. Living at plant speed.

This opens up a lot of fertile idea space when thinking of digital art and communication tied to urban spaces.

Here’s another. Watch for the real people flashing past through the doorway:

“Walking” by Blu, 2:54:

Bravo Blu. I can’t wait to see the memes you’ve unleashed escape the gallery and invade the cities.

[Thanks Jason Purcell.]

Bathroom Prank

September 8th, 2007


1. Download and open this PDF file.
2. Buy a pack of 3 1/3″ x 4″ white inkjet mailing labels. (About US$10 for 150 at any office supply store).
3. Print the PDF file on the labels.
4. Apply labels in public restrooms.

Doing this early and often will bring you good luck.

Want to alter it? Here’s the original Word template file.

Smart Games

February 5th, 2007

My friends want to make you smarter. Have a look at their new startup, Lumosity. They design video games to boost your brainpower.

Sounds like new-age California hot air I know. But after a peek at the studies behind the curtain (and after reading Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life) I think they could be onto something.

iBuyRight Melodrama

September 19th, 2006
iBuyRight (shh.. don't tell)

Lilia Manguy busted arse with three teammates for nine months to create a cleverly-designed, well-implemented tool that won an award for outstanding final Masters’ project this year at my alma mater, Berkeley’s iSchool.

What they built has the potential for plenty of social good. The software’s called “iBuyRight” [Web site, Master’s project report] and it helps people make purchases aligned with their personal values. When you’re out shopping, you can scan a product’s UPC code using your camera phone, and iBuyRight will display on your phone’s screen information about the product and the firms behind it, how they treat their workers, associated environmental and health concerns, etc.

Now Lilia claims that Dara O’Rourke, a Berkeley assistant professor who suggested that the team implement this idea, is attempting to remove Lilia from the project and take it over. Lilia says O’Rourke’s core justification for this is that he came up with the idea behind the project. She says that, months into the students’ work building iBuyRight, he filed a draft patent application listing himself as sole inventor.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks, Jane.

April 29th, 2006

Jane Jacobs died this week. She permanently changed the way I think and see.

Her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” overwhelmed me with feelings of serendipity and intimacy. It dug deep into a long series of my questions and observations about cities and neighborhoods and public spaces.

I kept bumping against these issues in the dark, struggling with common-sense suspicions that so much of the logic behind recent North American urban planning and housing development is just plain wrong and destructive — until Jacobs flipped on the spotlights and revealed the very real sources of those feelings.

She led me to an ongoing fascination with urban studies and architecture. I realized through Jacobs how important it is to understand the workings of places and flows of people in the city when designing new communications tech.

She underlined the need to break out of academic and professional echo chambers. To simply get out there and watch how things work, from the ground up. To plant the right seeds and get out of the way, rather than attempting to overdesign, to dictate, to predict the unpredictable.

She did all this through plain, passionate, human language, without an ounce of pedantry or arrogance.

Thanks Jane.


April 7th, 2006

Friends at Berkeley’s School of Information (formerly SIMS) are building something intriguing. It’s called Mycroft and it replaces Web site banner ads with tiny tasks for users to complete. In aggregate, all these tiny completed tasks can solve massive problems that computers can’t tackle on their own.

Here’s an example:

It’s still a student project but already you can publish the banners on your own site. Details here.

To take it further, consider: Mycroft presents each puzzle piece to multiple users to verify the solution(s). So the second or third time a puzzle piece appears, why not present it in a different setting: not as a Web banner ad, but as a captcha test for someone creating a new account on a Web site? (Captcha tests are those “type the letters you see in this scrambled image” tasks that verify you’re a human.)

So when verifying that a new user is human, Web sites could offer a Mycroft test and boost their revenues or help solve problems for nonprofits — with no extra work or hassle for users. That’s powerful stuff.

[tags]global brain, mycroft, mechancial turk, captcha, berkeley, sims[/tags]

Jane’s Graveyard Games

October 10th, 2005

Jane McGonigal excels at such a deep and broad variety of things that I really should be jealous of her. And I try. But she’s so thoughtful and innovative and fun to be around that I just can’t keep the envy alive.

A year ago I invited her to a party at my house. She couldn’t make it because she was out of town. She apologized profusely, and to make it up she arranged for a cadre of performer friends to come over and carry out a full-on rock opera involving simulated Internet chat rooms and blue topless singing aliens.

You’ll be sorry if you miss Jane’s “Graveyard Games” this Saturday in Colma, the home of San Francisco’s dead. Details here. (You’re not allowed to bury people in San Francisco. Colma is a bizarre suburb south of the city that’s made up largely of cemeteries housing countless deceased San Franciscans.)

Ning and Devtop

October 4th, 2005

Amidst all the buzz about the launch of (Marc Andreesen’s “24 Hour Laundry” project), Jen King points out that this all sounds like the startup she worked for back in 1999, Devtop. Apparently they were all Web 2.14 back when the rest of the world was still on Web 1.145. Give or take a few digits.

SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)– June 26, 2000 — (, the first integrated and personalized Internet desktop platform, today introduced Devtop (, the first open, integrated platform for building, deploying, and distributing Web-based applications. Devtop reduces development time, minimizes cost, enables enriched functionality, and offers broader distribution for Web application providers everywhere.

Devtop provides the infrastructure, content, technology, and other resources needed to build Web-based applications. The service includes an Application Programming Interface (API) and corresponding documentation to access databases and servers, 25MB free storage, and content such as news headlines, sports scores, and stock quotes. Devtop’s free hosting, 24×7 monitoring site management, and reporting minimize the time, money and technical expertise required to deploy an application.

Full press release

Dav Yaginuma (formerly Coleman) has been writing about this concept as well, calling it the “blank white server.”

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